4269 Cloudberry Ct.
Burtonsville, MD 20866
Dear Mr. Salita:
This responds to your letter asking about the applicability of Federal requirements to three inventions you are developing: a warning and teaching device for improving driving habits and fuel economy, a deceleration warning light, and a self-adjustable windshield wiper. The first item would "warn drivers by indicating the excessive deceleration, acceleration and dangerous speed at turns by emitting sound signals," and would be mounted on the dashboard. The second item would measure "actual vehicle deceleration" and control "the frequency of light flashing (preferable high-mounted brake light)," to alert the drivers of following vehicles. The third item would control "the rate of windshield wiper sweeps according to the intensity of rain." I am pleased to provide the information you requested.
By way of background information, the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) is authorized to issue Federal Motor Vehicle Safety Standards for new motor vehicles and new items of motor vehicle equipment. This agency does not provide approvals of motor vehicles or motor vehicle equipment. Instead, manufacturers are required to certify that their vehicles and equipment meet applicable standards. Also, it is unlawful for dealers to sell motor vehicles or motor vehicle equipment that do not meet applicable standards.
Vehicle manufacturers wishing to install your devices would be required to certify that their vehicles meet all applicable safety standards with the devices installed. While we do not have sufficient information to identify all the standards that might be relevant to your devices, I would like to bring three standards to your attention.
Standard No. 201, Occupant Protection in Interior Impact, would be relevant to your dashboard-mounted warning and
teaching device. That standard specifies requirements to protect occupants from impact with interior components and could affect where or how the device could be installed in a vehicle.
Standard No. 108, Lamps, Reflective Devices, and Associated Equipment, would be relevant to the deceleration warning light. That standard requires, among other things, that all original motor vehicle lighting equipment be steady burning in use, unless the standard provides otherwise. Since the standard does not specify deceleration warning lights as an exception to this requirement, they must be steady burning. Therefore, your added flashing deceleration light could not be installed on new vehicles. Because center high mounted stop lamps (CHMSLs) are not permitted to flash and must be activated only by the service brake, your use of the CHMSL as a deceleration light also is not allowed on new vehicles.
I am enclosing copies of two recent letters (addressed to Mr. Wayne Ferguson, July 30, 1993, and Ms. Teresa Thompson, May 11, 1995), which provide a more detailed discussion of requirements relevant to deceleration lights.
Standard No. 104, Windshield Wiping and Washing Systems, would be relevant to your self-adjustable windshield wiper. That standard specifies a number of requirements for windshield wiping systems. The standard would not preclude the inclusion of a self- adjustable windshield wiping feature. However, a vehicle manufacturer would need to ensure that the windshield wiping system with such a device met all of the requirements of that standard.
No standards would apply to your devices to the extent that they were sold as aftermarket equipment. However, Federal law prohibits a manufacturer, distributor, dealer, or motor vehicle repair business from "making inoperative" a vehicle's compliance with any safety standard. Therefore, your flashing deceleration light could not be installed by such businesses on used vehicles. If your device affects a CHMSL installed in compliance with Standard No. 108, it could not be installed by the above named businesses. Similarly, your other devices could not be installed by such businesses if the installation adversely affected a vehicle's compliance with any safety standard.
The "make inoperative" provision does not apply to modifications made by owners to their own vehicles. However, NHTSA encourages vehicle owners not to degrade the safety of their vehicles. Also, individual States have authority to regulate modifications that a vehicle owner may make to his or her vehicle. We are not able to provide you with information on State laws. You may wish to seek an opinion from the American Association of Motor Vehicle Administrators, 4600 Wilson Boulevard, Arlington, VA 22303.
Finally, all three of your devices are considered to be "motor vehicle equipment" under Federal law. This means that the manufacturer would be subject to Title 49 of the U.S. Code, sections 30118-30122, concerning the recall and remedy of products with defects related to motor vehicle safety. If the manufacturer or NHTSA determined that the product contains a safety related defect, the manufacturer would be responsible for notifying purchasers of the defective equipment and remedying the problem free of charge.
You have obviously spent a great of time and effort thinking about how to improve driving safety. We appreciate your efforts in this area and the contributions that inventors such as you make to motor vehicle safety.
I hope this information is helpful. I am enclosing a general information sheet for new manufacturers which summarizes NHTSA's regulations and explains where to obtain copies of Federal motor vehicle safety standards and other regulations. If you have any further questions about lighting requirements, please contact Mr. Taylor Vinson at (202) 366-2992. For further information about other safety standards, please contact Ms. Dorothy Nakama at the same telephone number.
John Womack Acting Chief Counsel